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The Sweepstakes Continues Part I

Lucas Peltier / USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft speculation, a tradition as old as time. Who will be drafted where, which team will uncover the hidden gem and which team will select the newest bust. This is not one such ritual but speculation on where the NBA’s next huge prize will land.

Victor Wembanyama is arguably the most highly coveted and hyped NBA draft prospect since LeBron James. Who will take him in the 2023 NBA Draft and land a generational talent that can transform their team for the next ten to fifteen years? This is who is most likely to acquire him half way through the current NBA season in part one of this article series.


Houston Rockets

Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

The Houston Rockets have been toiling in mediocrity ever since the team entered a full rebuild after trading away James Harden in 2020. Jabari Smith has not had the kind of start to his NBA career as many would’ve expected, which hasn’t helped. The rookie has been shooting poorly from outside and from the field entirely, which was the selling point of his game coming out of Auburn

Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. have both been averaging close to 20 ppg on high volume and usage rates with poor shooting efficiency. The duo of Green & Porter Jr. both have negative plus/minus and efficiency ratings while trying to find their way in the NBA, but chucking up shots left and right to pad stats is not a winning formula.

Alperen Şengün is one of the few bright spots on the team, finding his rhythm as a passing big man in the vein of Nikola Jokic with positive plus/minus on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. That’s not to say he doesn’t have work to do, as the eye test will tell you that the Turkish product still needs to improve defensively. Şengün is a piece that the Rockets need to build around for the future and consider dealing Porter Jr. for pieces that better fit with their roster. 

Assessing The Fit

Wembanyama would likely be able to fit in here on the roster slotting in at the five. Şengün could potentially play at the four and as the five when Wemby is off the court rotationally. Şengün playing alongside Wembanyama would be spectacular on the offensive end with Şengün’s passing prowess and Wembanyama’s ability to finish at the rim. The issue with this pairing would be defensively, as Wembanyama would likely have to constantly come in as a help defender with Şengün and would take away from his ability to protect the rim as prolifically as projected. 

Smith could slot in as an oversized three and four in certain rotations but that would likely be difficult to mesh cohesively and may require the rookie to come off the bench as a sixth-man in the future. The former Tiger would likely benefit from the attention that Wembanyama and Green would garner offensively and receive some good looks from outside. 

The question marks are at the guard positions with Green and Porter Jr. functionally being two shooting guards but one having to serve time as the main initiator. Green and Wembanyama pick-n-rolls and high screens would be an exciting pair with limitless possibilities. 

The Rockets will need to address the point guard position as a priority in order for Wembanyama to develop well as a player unless they center their offense around Şengün and put him in charge of initiating the offense. 


Detroit Pistons 

Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons are in this position largely due to the injury of Cade Cunningham. You likely would not see the Pistons competing for the Wembanyama gauntlet if Cunningham were healthy but regardless here we are. 

The future of the franchise rests on the shoulders of Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. If the Pistons are in the position to draft Wembanyama at number one, a decision will have to be made on the future of Duren with the organization. If Duren is willing to play second fiddle or have the ability to play the four next to the French product then it shouldn’t be an issue but otherwise the Pistons will have to consider trading the young center to a team looking for a rim protector and lob threat. 

Wembanyama ideally you would want to pair next to a four who doesn’t limit your team’s ability to space the floor. The Pistons seem to have been experimenting with Isaiah Stewart at the four, spacing the floor on higher volume in his third year, but 32.7% from behind the arc doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of NBA defenses. 

Assessing The Fit

Stewart next to Wemby would be a solid frontcourt defensively that would allow the rookie to protect the rim effectively without having to come assist in the post or get stretched out to the perimeter. Wembanyama will likely be capable of switching no matter what position he finds himself in, however you want to utilize his greatest strengths being his length and timing around the rim to disrupt opposing offensive game plans. Wembanyama paired next to Stewart with Duren coming off the bench on the second unit could be lethal in the right setting if Stewart can start hitting three’s at a respectable clip. 

Cunningham and Wembanyama centered pick-n-rolls and pick-and-pops would be nightmare fuel for opposing defenses as well as the threat of a cutting Ivey to the rim from the perimeter. Cunningham and Ivey driving to the rim, penetrating the defense all for them to lob the ball up above the outstretched arms of everyone in the post just for Wembanyama to snatch the ball out of the air and slam it down. 

The Pistons would be an intriguing location for Wembanyama to end up in with a lineup consisting of the Frenchmen, Cunningham and Ivey. That would be a lineup for the future and health permitting, a competitive franchise for years to come if the right pieces are placed amongst them. 


Fight To The Finish 

The landscape of the NBA this year has been extremely competitive and balanced with most teams in both conferences competing for playoff spots in some form. There have been many surprises in that regard but we will see in the second half of the season if any considerable separation takes place in the playoff race. 

The possibility of fringe teams presently that start to slip down the standings later in the season may embrace the idea of landing the golden goose and take their foot off the gas. The NBA this season has been wild in terms of crushing and exceeding expectations so this list by the time April rolls around could be completely different but for now the Wembanyama Sweepstakes continues…

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